Did Telephones Raise Longevity?

Longevity is everything, these days. The only point in life is to live as long as possible. Nothing else matters.

Oddly enough, the supremacy of longevity has come at a time when people have been starting to live longer anyway. That’s to say that people haven’t been living longer as a consequence of this new supremacy of longevity in medicine, but rather that the supremacy of longevity is a consequence of a surprising new longevity.

And maybe that’s quite easy to explain. As people live longer, more and more healthcare provisions go into hip replacements and heart surgery and old folks’ homes and nursing homes. An entire industry has grown up that just keeps people alive longer and longer. And in this new industry, longevity is everything. Nothing else matters. And the values of this burgeoning new industry seep into the entire medical profession, the entire public health profession, and from thence permeate all political and  cultural life.

And it’s a perfectly viable industry. A lot of these old people are quite wealthy and have good pensions, and they’re prepared to pay handsomely to stay alive. In addition, the state has stepped in to ensure that poorer people get something approximately equivalent too.

Smoking bans are another expression of this new supremacy of longevity. If people don’t smoke, they’ll live a few years longer. Same if they don’t drink. And do some exercise. And keep their weight down. And those few extra years or months are all that matters. And this new imperative is now spilling out of hospitals and care homes, first into the grounds around them, and then into adjacent streets, like a metastasising cancer.

But why are people living longer than they used to do? In the past when I’ve thought about it, I’ve assumed that it was largely because they were better fed and better housed. But thinking some more about it today, I’ve come up with a different explanation.

In my experience, most of the people I’ve known throughout my life  – regardless of whether they were fat or thin, smoked, drank, or slept around – were perfectly healthy people most of the time. They only ever wound up in hospitals as a result of accidents like car crashes or sporting injuries. That’s been true of me too. The only time I ended up in a hospital was when I came off a motorbike and slid along a London street, cracking my elbow in the process. The next time I was in hospital, about 30 years later, was when I was offered pioneering keyhole surgery for a mild hernia. I wasn’t sure I really needed it, but accepted the offer, and spent one night in hospital.

For most people, in my experience, pretty much all the health problems start late in life. In her sixties my otherwise healthy mother began to suffer from arthritis which slowly got worse. And around the age of 65, my father started to suffer from what used to be called maturity onset diabetes. But both continued to live active lives.

Their first hospital encounter came when my father fell in the garden and broke his hip, and had a hip replacement op, and took a while getting back on his feet again.

Their next hospital encounter came when my father had a stroke, which left him as vigorously strong as he’d always been, but unable to speak. He spent the next 18 months or so in nursing homes until he died aged 79.

Recently, in the light of revelations about Hillary Clinton, I’ve begun to wonder whether “stroke” wasn’t so much cause as effect. I wasn’t there that day, but my father had driven himself that morning to a hospital to start a course in radiotherapy for incipient bladder cancer, and then driven himself all the way back – a 40 mile round trip. That was probably a pretty exhausting experience. And so when he got home, and my mother called him to the dining room for lunch, this exhaustion (combined with an unsteadiness on his feet I’d previously noticed) may have been the reason why he lost his footing, and fell down, and banged his head against a wall or bookcase or door, and started the internal bleeding that was diagnosed as a stroke. i.e. the stroke quite likely was a consequence of taking a heavy fall, rather than the fall being the consequence of the stroke. Which is what happened with Hillary Clinton some years ago.

In the case of both my father’s falls, ambulances pretty soon arrived at their country home. And that was because my parents had a telephone. It was really modern communication systems – the telephone – that allowed my father to live an extra 14 years.

It was that, and not any advances in medicine, that prolonged his life. For there have been relatively few medical advances. There was no treatment for my mother’s arthritis. And no treatment (apart from dietary changes) for my father’s diabetes. And probably no effective treatment for his incipient bladder cancer. And no treatment for his stroke. The only really effective medical innovation was hip replacement.

And if lots of people have suddenly begun living quite a lot longer, it’s probably because when something happens to them, modern communications now allow them to get help quickly. But that help, when it quickly arrives, is really not much better than it was 100 years ago – because ageing, dementia, stroke, heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, are not really much better understood than they were back then.

I think it’s interesting that in the case of both my parents, falling down and breaking something was actually the main threat to their lives. For about 10 years after my father’s second fall my mother fell and broke her hip as well, and I suspect it caused a slight stroke that left her a bit dotty for the rest of her life. It was also the main threat to the life of an old lady who once acted in loco parentis for me, and who fell out of bed one night, broke a leg, and died two days later.

The first telephones appeared in the UK in about 1880. Public telephone kiosks first seem to have started appearing on UK streets in 1920.  The first UK ambulance service started in 1890, most likely because hospitals had begun to be called by telephone, and told about accidents or injuries, and began to see a need for a rapid response. And if the NHS is now overloaded, it’s because over the subsequent century telephones gradually became ubiquitous, and everyone’s got one in their back pocket. Everyone lives longer, and everyone dies of diseases of old age, which hardly anyone used to die of. The epidemic of cancer in the UK, first noted around 1930, was quite likely one of these consequences of the new telephone-assisted longevity.



About Frank Davis

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15 Responses to Did Telephones Raise Longevity?

  1. roobeedoo2 says:

    Yes, and the creation of ‘safe spaces’ that lack any soul:


  2. Smoking Lamp says:

    I’m not sure telephones lead to greater longevity; however I am confident that smoking does not lead to decreased longevity. That is I believe the antismoking crusade relied upon exaggerated risks and outright lies.

    Following up on the earlier post on the recent study that exposed the lies about the ‘smoking ban health miracles’ Jacob Sullum has a new article up at Reason on the topic: “National Study Debunks Helena Smoking Ban Miracle (Again)” http://reason.com/blog/2016/09/26/national-study-debunks-helena-smoking-ba The article notes that An analysis of data from nearly 2,000 counties finds no evidence that smoking restrictions produce short-term reductions in heart attacks.”

    In additional news, California Governor Davis vetoed a college smoking ban today: “Public college students can still light up on campus after Gov. Brown vetoes smoking ban bill,” Los Angeles Timeshttp://www.latimes.com/politics/essential/la-pol-sac-essential-politics-updates-gov-brown-vetoes-smoking-ban-for-1474931450-htmlstory.html and an apartment smoking ban in Bellevue, Nebraska was voted down. See Bellevue City Council votes down apartment smoking ban”http://www.wowt.com/content/news/Bellevue-City-Council-votes-Monday-on-apartment-smoking-ban-394792231.html

    Perhaps others are starting to question smoking bans too?

  3. jaxthefirst says:

    This reminds me a bit about the man (Surgeon? Doctor? Statistician? Sociologist? – can’t remember now), who created a bit of a storm a few years ago when he pointed out, in response to some proudly-proclaimed statistics released in the US about how the murder rate had fallen by some percentage or another which the PTB (naturally) claimed the credit for, citing it as being an indication of how their crime-prevention programmes, or zero-tolerance policies, or extra funding, or some other such political wheeze, had been a “huge success.” This man then pointed out that over the period in question (it was quite a long timespan, like 10 years or something), that emergency medical techniques had improved to such an extent that many injured patients arriving at hospitals who, 10 years ago would have almost certainly died of their wounds, were now being saved, thus putting them into the category of “assault victims” rather than “murder victims.” Hence the drop in the murder rate. He estimated that the attempted murder rate (whether “successful” or not) had probably remained almost exactly the same for the whole period. The PTB didn’t like him raining on their parade in that way at all!

  4. harleyrider1978 says:

    Global debt climbs towards fresh high as companies and countries keep on borrowing


    • harleyrider1978 says:

      However, issuance is expected to pick up later this year following the Bank of England’s decision to buy £10bn of corporate debt as part of its revamped bond-buying programme.

      LMAO did you brits know your government or bank was buying up bad debt from all your uk corporations to keep the country afloat its the same thing obamas done for 8 years!

  5. slugbop007 says:

    University campuses in California want to ban smoking everywhere. One would think that everyone is huddled cheekby jowl and there is little room to move or free spaces to breathe. On the contrary, UCLA is 419 acres in size and it’s the smallest of the ten University of California campuses. I walked through that campus a long time ago and I can tell you there is plenty of space for everyone to do whatever he or she pleases. This antismoking/antitobacco smoke crusade is really absurd. It’s Nazi Germany all over again.slugbop007

    • harleyrider1978 says:

      Hitler Youth had anti-smoking patrols all over Germany, outside movie houses and in entertainment areas, sports fields etc., and smoking was strictly forbidden to these millions of German youth growing up under Hitler.”

  6. garyk30 says:

    Some; but, the trend was greatly aided by the fact that more people were living in cities rather than in rural areas and could get to medical care.

    I suspect that people are not living longer as such, it is just that more of them are living to old age and that raises the median age.

    Plus, fewer are dying at young ages and lowering the median age.

  7. nisakiman says:

    Totally off topic, but there is a quite interesting (tobacco industry) article on rolling tobacco I just came across:


    Article starts on page 32.

    In fact, there are a couple of interesting articles in the magazine. Worth a browse.

  8. smokingscot says:

    O/T Re yesterday’s post.

    Seems the polls are all over the place with the first debate. But the consensus is Mr. T won (so 100% against what our BBC made out, based on the minute CNN poll).


    One thing Hil’s did was get a wee buzz phrase out. “Trickle down Trump” (economics). Very neat I thought. Something Mr. T didn’t manage.

    Noted Hil’s was wearing a two piece suit, with the jacket in such a way that it looked very comfortable but abnormally bulky. After the debate she did the wave thing, then bent to clasp hands and it was fairly obvious she was wearing some form of lumbar support, probably a belt.

    Otherwise she was in fine form with no signs of any distress. Trouble is she’s spent so much time doing trial runs that she came over as flat and over-rehearsed.

    Two more to go and Mr. T better get working on a counter buzz phrase. Next is Monday 10 Oct.

    • James says:

      It’s funny you mention the bias against a Donald Trump ,on the BBC,when I was watching the news at 05:00 this morning, their reporters were adamant Crooked Hillary had won,yet ,not 30 minutes later, on the way to work, listening to the paper review- on Radio 4, – including American ones, a different view emerged. Funny that

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